Hollywood budgets have grown increasingly large over the decades, only to hit an all time high in the 2010s. These big studio tent pole movies are going all in with their budgets, and reaping big rewards at the international box office. One might assume that one of the highest grossing movies of all time, such as the one and two spots: last years’ Avengers: Endgame or James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), would be the most expensive movies ever made, but the highest budget movie in Hollywood goes to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) with a total cost (including marketing) estimated to be around 379 million dollars, unadjusted for inflation. No small change.
Tides is the fourth film in the Pirates franchise, following the original trilogy. It takes us on a journey with signature Pirates character Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) on the hunt for the fountain of youth, who must fight Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his cohorts along the way. Tides grossed over one billion dollars at the international box office, no easy feat, and needless to say it was a financial success. It is currently the 38th highest grossing film of all time, unadjusted for inflation. It made the second most of the franchise, behind the second film Dead Man’s Chest (2006), which made roughly 20 million more. The next most expensive Pirates movie was the third film, At World’s End (2007), with a total estimated cost of around 300 million, unadjusted.
There are some interesting facts we can gain from the list of highest budget movies in Hollywood. There was only one film on the unadjusted for inflation list that was made before the 21st century, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) the third highest grossing movie of all time, tied for the 43rd spot on the list for most expensive with an estimated total costs of around 200 million. The other two highest grossing movies of all time: Avengers: Endgame (number 3 on the list of most expensive) and Cameron’s Avatar (number 19 on the list of most expensive), cost 356 million and 237 million respectively.
When adjusted for inflation however, Titanic jumps up to number six with an estimated total cost of around 319 million. Avatar moves up to spot 14 with a total costs with inflation of around 282 million. Endgame drops to the fourth spot (it’s cost staying the same), dethroned by At World’s End with a total adjusted for inflation cost of around 370 million.
The adjusted for inflation list is still filled with mostly films from the 21st century but there are quite a few from the 1990s and even older, namely: Waterworld (1995) estimated 289 million with inflation, Wild Wild West (1999) estimated 261 million with inflation, Cleopatra (1963) estimated 260 million with inflation, Armageddon 1998 estimated 220 million with inflation, and Superman (1978) estimated 214-218 million with inflation.
Some other interesting facts from the list… the most expensive back to back production goes to the Hobbit trilogy with an estimated cost of 623 million, followed by the second and third Pirates movies (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End) with a total estimated combined cost of 450 million.
Can you guess which studio has put out the highest budget movies? If you guessed Disney, you are correct. Of the top 10 spots only two were not Disney productions (or Marvel or Lucasfilm, both owned by Disney). Justice League (2017) with a total estimated cost of around 300 million (unadjusted) and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with a total estimated cost of around 263 million (unadjusted), both films in the DC universe produced by Warner Brothers.
Guess what? Stranger Tides still holds the number one spot regardless of it we adjust for inflation. Total costs with inflation are around 430 million dollars! It’s still the highest budget movie in Hollywood, until something ultimately comes around in the 2020s and dethrones it. Could it be Cameron’s long gestating Avatar sequels? Villeneuve’s Dune (2020) or its inevitable sequels? Another Marvel or Star Wars film? What do you think it will be?